There may be times when you’d like to start up a blog or a website which you don’t really care about getting rankings for. Maybe it’s a site for your kids, maybe it’s just a place for your personal musings. Whatever the case may be, there are a number of places online that will offer you a free custom domain name for your new endeavor at no additional charge. The question is, should you use them?
Secondary Level Domains
Okay, let’s start with a few definitions before we get into the nitty gritty of this topic. When I say that you can get free domain names, I’m not referring to “sub” domains. These are things like “mysite.wordpress.com.” Such domains are not custom domains — they simply offer you a “sub domain” under their top level domain.
However, while these are not top level domains (and thus they are worth less for ranking purposes than using your own hosting service), they are places to get free hosting. Though again, I’m not sure you’d want it, unless you know that you have no desire to actually rank such a site. Don’t forget also that if you already have hosting for one site, the odds are you can host additional domains under that same hosting account for free.
Top Level Domains
Okay, so as I said, there are a few places that offer top level domains (i.e. mysite.com) for free. However, there are a few catches, some of which may rankle you to the point where you won’t actually want to may use of such services.
In both cases, these are ccTLD domains (i.e. country code top level domains). This means that you would get for example, dolr.tk, which I use as a short URL for my personal finance blog (just pronounce it out loud to see why). I know of no place to get a free .com, though occasionally, Go Daddy does have $1 domain name registration for one year, which is next to free…
Secondly, both of these options require you to have a certain amount of traffic coming to your site in order to keep your free domains.
Third, they have certain restrictions on usage (I found out the hard way when my domain was taken away from me because I was using it as a URL shortening service — I had to quickly switch it to a paid domain).
The first option is dot TK. These guys offer a free domain which ends in .tk. TK is Tokelau by the way, a tiny little island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean which is under the nominal protection of New Zealand. They have a total of around 1400 residents spread over three tiny atolls (little outcropping types of islands) with a total landmass of 10 square kilometers.
I prefer this option because you don’t have to confuse people with a second dot in your domain name (you’ll see what I mean in a moment). It’s also more useful if you want a short URL, however you need to have a real site in order to get a free domain name from them (i.e. you can set up an actual site and then use short domains from them as well, but you can’t have only a short domain site on their domain unless you pay for it).
The other option is the .CO.CC option. This freebie is offered courtesy of the Cocos Islands, another tiny country you probably never heard of which is under the protection of Austalia and is a chain of tiny islands located in the Indian Ocean (they have around 600 residents). The thing is, I don’t happen to like this option as much because, in addition to not being a .com, you also have to confuse people further with the extra dot (i.e. mysite.co.cc).
Those who live overseas may be used to this (i.e. mysite.co.uk), however for many people, it just makes a domain harder to remember.
When It Is Useful
I generally don’t recommend you use one of these free domain names unless you don’t plan to monetize the site. While Google shouldn’t penalize you for using such a domain, many of your customers will be a little more leery of them because such domains are not the more familiar .com (or a country code people know, like .uk, jp, etc.).
However, if you want to set up a site which would specifically use a short URL, they can be useful. .Tk for example will give you a free four character domain, though some popular words are not available for free. Buck.tk for instance was going for around $298 for two years for example when I checked on it.
The other time such sites can be useful is for branding. For example, I had planned to use “justwritei.tk” to create a business (Just Write It, ‘K?) site for my writing business. I ended up registering yourbestwriter.com at a Go Daddy sale though.
Bottom line, these free domains have their uses — when you have something which you are just experimenting with (I own luvfreestuff.tk for example for a site which offers free ClickBank products) and of course they are great when you want to give your kid a domain name or set up a blog for personal musings for your family and friends.
However, if you want to start a business online, it’s hard to justify saving the $7.49 it would cost you to simply register a regular .com domain with a place like Go Daddy instead.